Dairy's future depends on lowering its environment footprint. Dairy farmers have some complex challenges to face.
Dairy farmers are listening to the public and are working closely with regional councils, NIWA and groups like Landcare, the QEII Trust and Fish and Game New Zealand to get this right.
In 2002 the dairy industry made an ambitious commitment to improve dairy farms’ environmental performance with the Clean Streams Accord. Thousands of kilometres of waterways have been fenced. Hundreds of new bridges and culverts have been built to stop cows walking through water on their way to the dairy, and streams are being planted with natives to improve biodiversity and stream health. It is a sign of how far we have come in such a short space of time that we’re already setting the bar higher.
Dairy farming needs to continue to grow to maintain our international competitiveness and fuel the New Zealand economy, while at the same time reducing its environmental footprint.
The dairy industry is investing considerable sums in research aimed at finding ways to reduce greenhouse gases, improve nutrient management and resource use efficiency.
Resource use efficiency
We are living in a world where we can't afford to waste resources. Farmers are large users of fertiliser, power and water - is it going to waste?
Dairy farmers are coming up with innovative ways to use their resources more efficiently so they can be more sustainable.
In the past the application of fertiliser and nutrient rich effluent, and the use of water wasn't as efficient as it is today. Farms now have systems which manage their nutrient inputs and outputs. Thanks to technology even the way pasture is irrigated has changed so that our water resources go further. Practices and technology like these are saving costs, reducing waste and they're kinder on the environment, and we're continually working on ways to continue improving resource use efficiency.
The production of milk is a disastrous source of water pollution. A dairy cow produces 120 pounds of waste every day -- equal to that of two dozen people, but with no toilets, sewers, or treatment plants.
Even a smallish farm of 200 cows will produce as much nitrogen as in the sewage from a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people
In fact, New Zealands farmed animals produce the effluent equivalent of 150 million people.
According to the Waikatere City Council:
"Farm run-off, especially that from dairy farms, can add significantly to the contamination of waterways. Apart from farm oxidation ponds that have been shown to contain high levels of bacteria and pathogens, a large amount of animal waste ends up on the paddock. Depending on a number of factors including distance to the nearest stream, rainfall intensity and stock numbers - faecal material ends up in waterways, which ultimately discharge to the sea. Where stock have access to streams and rivers for drinking water, excrement may be deposited directly into the water."
Cows eat. Cows produce gas. Their flatulence emits methane gas. Their urine produces nitrous oxide which adds to the "Global Warming/ Greenhouse Effect." Add it all together and each one of New Zealand's nine million dairy cows produces 189 pounds of methane gas per year. More of the same occurs wherever farm animals are raised for human consumption.
Methane gas (C-H-4) makes the second biggest contribution to global warming (carbon dioxide is number 1). The digestive processes of cattle, particularly cows and sheep, is the major source of methane emissions.
Because of this, farmed animals produce more greenhouse gases then all of the world transport combined.
Every year, more then 125,000 square miles of rainforest is destroyed by meat and dairy production and 26 billion tonnes of topsoil are lost from overgrazing farm animals.
An estimated 1,000 species of plants and animals become extinct every year as a result of meat and